Thanksgiving Covid suggestions for feasts with unvaccinated visitors
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. And for many of us, it’s a welcome break — a chance to resume our pre-pandemic habits and rituals, as well as reconnect with family and friends. Staying at home makes me feel like I’m in the year 2020.
Big get-togethers, on the other hand, can be nerve-wracking, especially if you know some people around the table will be unvaccinated this year. So, what exactly is the danger of a “mixed” Thanksgiving gathering?
As a scientist and physician, I consider the danger in terms of shades of grey. Before each social gathering, I question myself: What is my chance of contracting SARS-CoV2? What are my chances of contracting it? And what are my chances of becoming extremely sick if I do catch it?
Despite the fact that the risk equation might appear complex — and even frightening — many aspects of it are within our control.
Of course, the first and best method to limit the danger of both exposure and infection is to ensure that everyone who attends your Thanksgiving gathering is vaccinated. Vaccination isn’t perfect – the sneaky delta variation can cause breakthrough infections — but it reduces your chance of infection by at least 70% and as much as 90%, depending on the vaccinations you received and if you had a booster shot.
(These figures may differ based on your personal medical history.) Vaccines also reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation, death, and a long Covid for almost everyone. Vaccinations are similar to securing your child in a car seat. If you’re in a car accident, your child may be injured, but the risk of injury and death is far reduced if they’re buckled up. It’s the same situation here. Vaccines are effective.
Unfortunately, it is too late for anyone to complete their immunisation series before Thanksgiving. People may be unvaccinated because they are too young (or haven’t finished their primary Covid-19 vaccination series for 5- to 11-year-olds), have allergies (a vanishingly small number; current statistics suggest that very few people with allergies to other vaccines, foods, or medications have reactions to the Covid-19 vaccines), or have concerns about the vaccines.
After the celebration, I still advise you to talk to the unvaccinated about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations in order to make your next get-together a bit safer.
Changing the number of individuals attending your event might help to lessen some of the danger. If your family has a lot of unvaccinated members or if the number of Covid cases in your area is large, you may wish to reduce the number of people to keep everyone safe. This can be tough in some extended families, but know that it’s a choice.
You can also attempt to reduce the risk of the virus spreading via the air if someone who is infected is present. These are the “non-pharmaceutical” solutions that we’re all familiar with: dining outside or opening the windows; investing in a high-quality air filter; requiring everyone to wear a mask while they’re home. You might even want to invest in a CO2 monitor to keep track of how well the air filtration is working. Each of these actions reduces the likelihood that the airborne virus will enter your nose and lungs.
Last but not least, you may reduce your risk by requiring people to show that they are not contagious via fast testing right before the get-together. Even if everyone attending Thanksgiving is vaccinated, I’m asking friends and family to undergo a quick test before any indoor, large gathering. It’s also simple! You may get a batch of fast tests (which take 15 minutes and can be completed totally at home) at your local pharmacy and then have everyone test themselves right before the party.
One key caution concerning quick testing: A negative Covid-19 test today does not ensure a continuous negative result tomorrow, much like a pregnancy test. It’s possible that the test has come positive too soon. So don’t put your faith in a test that was taken three days ago, yesterday, or even that morning. Also, keep in mind that, while this mitigation approach is beneficial, it isn’t adequate.
Finally, I encourage people to consider not only the danger posed by the Thanksgiving dinner but also the risk posed by all of the other events around the holiday. I advise individuals to utilise the MyCOVIDRisk.app for real-world risk mitigation, which estimates the probability of infection — and suggests strategies to reduce risk — in a range of settings. (I work at Brown University’s Center for Digital Health, which developed the app.)
So, what exactly am I doing? I’m hosting a modest family gathering. Although most of us will be vaccinated (and older individuals will receive booster injections), some children will not have had their first two jabs. I take measures at the ER, despite the fact that I work there. And no one will be attending any high-risk gatherings the week before Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving morning, we’ll all take a little test.
Here’s to turkey, family, and ringing in the new year.